Go down to the Outlet once again
“Let’s spend out last quarterstance randomly/ Go down to the Outlet once again.” If that line doesn’t ring a bell, it’s from a haunting and beautiful song called “Here,” off Pavement’s 1990/1991 album debut Slanted and Enchanted, released in 1992. Now, I have no idea if Steve Malkmus was singing about the Veterans Outlet thrift store on Harding Way in Stockton, but it’s as good a guess as any. For a lot of us who grew up in and around Stockton, the Outlet was a central fact of our existence, or at least a great place to go score cheap clothes once you had a topnotch and cheap lunch at Cafe Azteca on American Street (or, earlier, West Market Street for you purists).
I went through a long period where I was obsessed with the Outlet, and I used to go there nearly every day to check out the shirt racks. Being well over six feet tall, I never could find pants or suits in the racks, but there always was a pretty great selection of tops on hand — bowling shirts, Hawaiian shirts, weird soul brother polyester shirts. And they were dirt cheap, so I was always coming home with like five shirts and maybe a blazer or suit coat, plus some old records and books I’d scored from the dusty bins in the back.
For a while, I had my Outlet nemesis. He was this fairly tall guy, about my age, who wore his hair slicked back in the old-school pre-Liverpudlian lube style. My quite internal reference name for the guy was Elvis. At any rate, he and I had similar tastes in shirts. So if I got there late, all the cool shirts in my size would be picked out, and Elvis would have a neat pile of all the stuff I was going to buy that day, and I’d be pissed. But on other days, I’d get there, case the joint — no Elvis — and I’d get a nice stack of sweet-deal shirts and then he’d come sauntering in. He’d casually meander by, looking at my pile, and he’d glower at my swag. On rare days, we’d get there around the same time, and both tear through the racks, one eye on the shirts and the other cocked on watching what the other guy was getting.
I’d forgotten all about that little rivalry for at least a decade. Then, in the late 1980s, around the time David Lynch’s ABC series Twin Peaks was a big hit, I was in Burbank at the old Warner Bros. Records “ski chalet” headquarters to do an interview. I’d gone there to get a story on one of my homies. So there I was, sitting across the table from Stockton expatriate singer Chris Isaak, and he gave me this weird look, then he pointed at me and said: “Hey, you’re that guy from the Veterans Outlet.” I looked at him and started laughing.
Um, I guess you had to be there. Anyway, the Outlet made for some pretty fine thrifting. —Jackson Griffith